How To Take Charge of Your Energy Bills

So at last Ofgem has called a full investigation into the energy market. Taken a new leader to do it. The Guardian has written a good article about the whys and wherefores of this investigation here . For this post though I don’t want to debate the history, reasons and politics, I just want to show you the importance for, and ease with which, you can and should look at switching your supplier on a regular basis.

The consumer has to take some responsibility. I don’t mean for the hikes and the apparent huge profits that the big 6 make. I mean to be proactive and take a short time to look for a lower price. If more of us did this then perhaps there would be some more competition and less complacency in the energy market. For those of you who don’t just let your car or house insurance renew each year, it is the same principle. If you do just let your house and car insurance just renew let me tell you it is costing you hundreds of pounds a year. Never has a renewal been the cheapest quote for me in over 25 years of driving and only once for the house!

Why Switch?
Because you would be daft not to do so. If you haven’t switched for many years, chances are you are paying way over the odds for your energy. You’ll be on a standard tariff the most expensive you can have. The company you are currently with will have had other offers, fixed tariffs, promotions etc., and you have missed them all, to say nothing of the other companies.

I look to switch every year and think there was only one year when I didn’t change and that was a tariff where I was informed by the company if they could put me on a cheaper tariff. That offer was only on for a few weeks. The benefits of signing up to Martin Lewis’ website‘s emails, you get to know this stuff and make sure you are with everyone else who is first in the queue as often these deals are limited to the fist xx thousand.

Is It difficult?
Not really. Since 2010 energy companies have to send you an annual statement which will have all the information you need, i.e. consumption over the year. Even if you don’t have this you can still use the information from old bills. You can usually sign up to look at your account online, so you can also use that if you don’t keep your paper statements. Go to any of the switch sites, type into your favourite search engine “Switching energy” suppliers and take your pick. Always worth checking more than one. However, this is where the brilliant Money Saving Expert website is great again. Now, go to that link. That will take you painlessly through comparing prices. Name, address, postcode and consumption and away you go. Remember that just because your mate 200 miles away uses the same amount of energy as you, it does not follow that you should have the same energy supplier.

Then sign up for the email on that page. You can set a minimum for how much you want to save a year before switching and you will automatically get an email telling you that you  could save this amount and to look at switching. Excellent. So you can switch and forget about it. Some clever technological whatsit will continually check switching for you.

Then, use more than one switching site such as uSwitch which is probably the most used site. It also covers every other type of insurance. It also provides notification if you could save at anytime.

Can you make make further savings?
Sometimes. Remember paying by direct debit, same supplier for gas and electricity will also bring the price down.

Armed with the information from searching the switch sites through Martin’s site (although strictly speaking he sold it didn’t he?!) then look at cashback sites. The best is Topcashback* (Trust me I’ve been using cashback sites for years). Occasionally you can get some cashback but going through another switch site and getting the same offer and then also try direct as the supplier may offer a cashback after three months.

What if you have no Internet access?
Well you do have access, clearly! Of course you may know someone who doesn’t but I would hope that if you care that much you would look up on the Internet for them! (One can look at changing using other methods but they would annoy me I have to say but then I’m anti social.) More details here about how and when you can change your mind and what to expect from the company. (This is particularly relevant for a company you’ve invited into your home etc.)

What else do you need to know?
It takes flipping ages. Most commonly 6 – 8 weeks. So now is the perfect time to be looking to switch. (The companies may not be allowed to raise prices but there will be offers and if you haven’t switched recently you will more than likely be able to make a saving.) Remember switching in December isn’t the best time, by the time it has all gone through the most expensive part of the year has gone.

You may be on, or choose a fixed tariff which may have early exit fees. It is still possible that it will be cheaper to pay this fee and switch. I truly believe that very few companies and certainly none of the big 6, have consumers at their heart. They have profits! Therefore, trying to make it look attractive not to switch, taking 6 – 8 weeks to administer the switch and not informing us of better tariffs they provide are all ways of keeping our custom and prices high. Let’s hope the investigation brings some changes.

Also a cautionary note on the switch sites – make sure you check that you want to see all the deals. More information about his here on the Financial Times website.

Masses of information about energy in the book. And if your gas is cut off here’s an article I wrote last year to help with redress!

*refer a friend link so I’ll get some pennies if you sign up as will you when you get welcomed!

How to Use Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974

So few people use the Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Even people who think they know their legal rights rely on the Sale of Goods Act. However, what if the company goes bust that you bought the item from? No money in the company to pay you back. That’s where the Section 75 rather usefully comes into play. Buy something for over £100 and under £30,000 and you are covered. (You don’t need to spend the full amount) Covered how? Well…..

A few years ago we had some curtains made with a furniture and furnishings company. We paid the deposit on a credit card. The company wanted cash for the remainder. We wouldn’t pay the cash. Even though we would have been covered because we used the credit card we knew something was wrong and if they were going to fleece customers by getting cash and not declaring it to receivers at a later point we would not let them get away with it! Eventually guess who won? So the curtains were put up. As suspected they weren’t good enough.

Nope, not good enough
Nope, not good enough

If you look closely, not as the dust(!) but at the slight differentiation in colour you might agree with me that the curtains were not good enough. As expected, as soon as we tried to get our money back, we could not get any response. Had we have given them cash they would have done a runner with it one assumes and many people who were left out of pocket I’m sure would be pleased that at least the owners didn’t pocket over £1,000 in cash.

So, I contacted the credit card company. It isn’t always as easy as just them paying up. I had to get an independent report. (That was good, the chap forgot to bill us!)  I then had to return the curtains to the warehouse. Quite ridiculous given that we knew that no-one was there but the credit card company insisted. So we sent, them back via a courier company (which messed up the delivery by not doing it within specified time and I got my money back for that too!) Anyway, the curtains were brought back to us as undeliverable. Credit card company paid up, we got curtains, not perfect but hey they were free!

If a holiday company goes bust, or a store sells you a faulty cooker etc., it is easier to prove so the process of getting your money back will be easier. I had to prove that under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 the items were not satisfactory, which I did, obviously!

You can use this Law even when a company hasn’t gone bust. That said, it is easier to go straight to the retailer. If the retailer doesn’t pay up you can always go to court like I do, that’s fun. Remember that a debit card does NOT cover you in the same way as a credit card does. Also useful to know is that this Act covers store cards. If the credit card company refuses to help report it to the Financial Ombudsman.

Have you used Section 75?


How to Write a Letter of Complaint

Many people say to me they don’t know how to put a letter or email of complaint together. I have provided lots of Tips and regularly give advice on Twitter and Facebook but here’s an example of an email I wrote for  Elaine who writes a testimonial here. Yet again a good pay out for someone else but I got a present! The email below was sent to the CEO of Sharps. They were very poor. The matter was handed down to someone else and the work was undertaken by the date specified. We had to send a further email to request the redress, which she got. £250

Dear Mr Smith

RE: Drawing No: 101513

I am writing to you to express my disgust at the atrocious service we have received from Sharps.

We recently purchased a made to measure set of bedroom wardrobes and units from your company which were delivered to our address on 05/11/2013. Until this point we had received excellent service from your company. The designer Alan and the surveyor also named Alan were both very professional and left us feeling confident that the work would be completed to a high standard and in a reasonable time frame. In order for the work to be completed as scheduled we employed our own builders at our personal expense to carry out the necessary preparation e.g. moving electrical sockets and redecorating to take place to accommodate the wardrobes and units. Our bedroom was cleared of all furniture as instructed by the surveyor, including our bed on the 05/11/13. However since the units were delivered on the 5/11/13 there has been no progress.

After initially being told the installation would take place a few days after the delivery date we were then informed that installation would take place on the 12/11/2012. This was not ideal for us but we were satisfied that at least we had a confirmed date and arranged to take annual leave from work as we were informed installation would take 3 days. However things went from bad to worse.

12/11/13 – No one attended our property to install the wardrobes. A breach of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. We did not receive any notification that installation was not going ahead. We telephoned customer services and spoke with Ms Cox who informed us that a colleague had called and left us a message on Saturday (9/11/13) informing us that installation would be delayed until the 13th November. We did not receive any such phone call or message and I am appalled that I was told this. We were informed a fitter would be with us on the 13th between 8 – 9am. As I had taken annual leave from work I had to re-negotiate a change in the annual leave at short notice, again.

12/11/13 At 7:30 pm – I received a call from customer services informing us that a fitter was not available to attend on the 13th but we would be contacted the following morning when they could find a fitter for the 14/11/13 – At such short notice it was obviously hard for me to re-negotiate a change in my annual leave again.

13/11/13 (am) – I received a call from Ms Cox informing us that she was trying to find a fitter for the next day and she would call us back.

Later that day it was left to me to follow up this ‘phone call.  We called the customer service department to find out if a fitter had been arranged and were told “No as it was a very busy time of the year” (wholly irrelevant and this should be planned for especially as we had already been dreadfully treated) and they would contact us the following day for a fitter to attend Friday (15/11/13) and Saturday (16/11/13).

14/11/13 (pm) – I received a call from Ms Cox informing us that she had not been able to arrange for a fitter for the Friday & Saturday but guaranteed a fitter would be with us on the  20/11/2013 between 8 -9am. Again I had to arrange more annual leave for the following week.

19/11/2013 (PM) – I rang customer services to confirm someone would be attending on the 20/11/2013 and were told it was on the system and a fitter would definitely be there between 8am-9am.

20/11/13 @10am – No-one arrived. We rang and spoke to Ms Cox again only to be told that no-one would be available today and we should never have been told someone would be (even though she had guaranteed it the previous week). The earliest date would be Friday 22/11/13; however she would try and find someone for 21/11/2013.

20/11/13 (pm) – I called again to ascertain if a fitter had indeed been found for 21/11/13 and were told by Ms Cox that it would be Friday 22/11/13

21/11/13  (pm) – I called the customer services again to ascertain if a fitter would be attending on Friday 22/11/13 and was told a fitter by the name of John would be with us between 8-9am on Friday 22/11/13.

21/11/13 (9.00am) – A ‘phone call received from Ms Cox asking whether the fitter had arrived. No-one had arrived up to this point. She promised to contact the fitter and then call us back with an update. I had to call back at 09:50am to find out what was going on, unfortunately Ms Cox was unavailable. She returned our call at 10:06 when we were informed that the filter was unattainable and his manager was unaware where he was.

To date we are no closer to an installation date  and are left not knowing when they will be installed.

We are appalled at the service we have received. You are in breach of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982; you have not provided services of a reasonable standard to which we are entitled. I found Ms Cox’s attitude dismissive and not at all sympathetic to the stress of the constant inexcusable delays, the repeated broken promises, the poor communication, and the inconvenience of having to change and re book leave from my work place at very short notice to accommodate a date for a fitter and of course not having a bed to sleep in for two weeks.

I trust that you will be as appalled as we are with the outrageous service we have received. Sharps is clearly in breach of the aforementioned Act. I am legally entitled to services of a satisfactory standard which should be completed within a reasonable length of time with no inconvenience to us and obviously we have not received this.

I expect to receive redress for the stress and inconvenience caused in addition to the out of pocket costs I have incurred. I have now used up all my leave as I was not able to change all the days I had previously booked. I expect redress for the loss of my annual leave. I earn £xxx a day and lost xxx days due to the errors made by Sharps. I expect this to be reimbursed in addition to an appropriate amount for the inconvenience and stress of the continued delays and being without the furniture.

I expect the furniture to be fitted by Saturday of this week and this is now non negotiable.

If I am not fully satisfied with your response I will not hesitate in taking the matter further which will include, but not be limited to Trading Standards, social media and The Small Claims Court. I will be seeking a full refund, costs as above plus court costs and further costs incurred.

Yours sincerely,

So that is an example of an email that gets results. Factual, clear, dates, times and names. Reference to the relevant Law and details of what you will do if the matter is not resolved to your satisfaction.

She got £200 and the bedroom was fitted by the Saturday!

I’d suggest you don’t use Sharps either.


3 Simple Steps to Gain Compensation for Train Delays

Last week, it was in the media that people don’t complain about train delays and don’t get the compensation to which they are due. Is that you? You WALLY! I always get money back for journeys which are delayed and frankly don’t write up the stories on here ‘cos it’s so simple and boring! All you have to do is fill out a form! So, because I’m a nice person. Ok, I’m not. Well for whatever reason, if only to annoy the train companies so that they spend their ridiculous income on improvements instead of payouts, I’m here to make things really easy for you. You’re welcome.

The rail companies all have a passenger charter. They abide by that which links to the National Rail Network guidelines. From July 2015 amendments were made to the National Rail Conditions of Carriage meaning you can now ask for monetary compensation and you should get it. Companies may still try and give you vouchers but you should refuse and demand money.

Payouts vary on how long the journey needs to be delayed. Most, if not all, would have you believe that you are only entitled to part of full refund and no other costs. Wrong. If the delay was in the train company’s control and you are left stranded for example the company is responsible for putting you up in accommodation so keep all receipts but stay somewhere with reasonable costs! The Rail Passenger’s Rights and Obligations Regulations 2010 gives more protection. So, if you think have a case, go for it and remember my Tips if you do. A “Would The Complaining Cow go for it question” is always a good one. If I would then and if you write it right you’ll get a decent payback.

Train companies are listed here. On that page are links to all the train companies including the underground. (Incidentally, tube refunds take two minutes to request, used to do them on a regular basis when daily using the Victoria line).  Click on the link of the company you need, then click on the website on that page and from that page do a search for “complaints” or “refunds”. Some say form, email etc. so you will need to go through whatever process it details and each will pay differently.

There is more information in the National Rail Conditions Of Carriage, look up that too and use that too!

If you think the response is unsatisfactory you can take the matter further. If your journey was outside London or the National Rail Enquiries Service then go through Passenger Focus.  For London and surrounding areas (including those on London Underground or London Overground) contact the London Travel Watch. If you’re unhappy with the response of either of these organisations get in touch again and raise a complaint with them about how your complaint has been dealt with! (See Tips on complaining) If you’re still unhappy with the way your complaint has been handled, you can take it to the Parliamentary Ombudsman (for Passenger Focus), or the London TravelWatch Chief Executive and, if you are still unhappy with London TravelWatch, the Local Government Ombudsman.

Information about complaining about buses here.

Most recent information on delays and vouchers from Which?

Update 07/09/16 Win! New rail passenger rights announced rail will be covered by the Consumer Rights Act from 1st October 2016. From the Which? post:

“This is good news for rail passengers. In a little over three weeks all rail passengers will be entitled to have their compensation paid within 14 days. Compensation will be issued by the same method the passenger paid with, rather than with vouchers that some train companies currently use.

Passengers will also be entitled to payment for additional consequential losses, such as missed connections, and will be able to claim for any length of delay.”

Good luck and please share your success stories with us here!